In Remembrance Of Dead Technology

A recent issue of AARP Bulletin magazine identified “dying” technologies which will soon exist only in memories.  These include incandescent light bulbs, tube televisions, and stand alone telephone answering machines.  That got me to thinking about technology I’ve used and seen die in my lifetime.  (Readers under 50 may need to click on the links to descriptions of the technologies I’m about to discuss.)

What first comes to mind is the mimeograph machine.   During my college activist days in the early 70’s, we publicized anti-war demonstrations and the like by printing fliers on mimeograph machines.  These machines could get messy, so thank goodness for photocopy machines.  (Some older folks still say “Xerox” machines, just as some folks call facial tissues “Kleenex.”)

From my early work days, I remember three part carbon paper.  This consisted of four pages attached together at the top, with each page separated by a page of carbon paper.  The top page was bond paper for the “original” and behind each page of carbon paper was an “onion skin” page for copies.  Typically, there was a white, pink and yellow “onion skin” page.  The white copy was often mailed out while the pink and yellow pages were for internal use  (a file copy and a master reading file copy).  This technology is acknowledged through the “cc” (carbon copy) at the bottom of many letters.

I also remember the 5 1/4-inch floppy disc, which my first computer used, but the not the 8-inch disc which preceded it.  My first “advanced” computer had two floppy drives which could read the latest “double-sided double-density” discs.  Two drives also allowed the use of multi-disc programs or a “save” disc without needing to take out the disc if there was only one drive.

The floppy disc was made extinct by the smaller, higher density 3 1/2-inch discs, which are themselves almost extinct because of flash drives with capacities over 1 gig.  My current computer, which is almost five years old, doesn’t even have a disc drive – just a CD/DVD drive.

Another computer technology on the brink of extinction is the dot matrix printer.  Years ago, I used to own a “near letter perfect” 24-dot matrix printer but now have a monochrome laser.  I’ve noticed that some businesses, such as car rental agencies, still use dot matrix printers because they can make the “carbon copies” needed at one time.  Hotels, however, typically print out the various copies one at a time on a small laser printer.

The biggest casualties have of course been in personal audio / video technology. Like everyone else, my parents made baby movies of me using 8 millimeter film. Unfortunately, documentation of my first steps is lost to the historical record.


Then there were various forms of music tapes. I had an eight-track in my car and cassette for my stereo system.  I still have over three dozen cassette tapes of entire albums I taped from radio stations when they used to play new albums without interruption.  And I still own a mid-sized “boom box” which has a cassette recorder which I’ve used to tape oldies radio stations toi supplement my oldies CD collection.

I ‘ve refused to dispose of my vinyl record collection.  Many albums never made it to CD because they were not “popular” enough.   So another retirement project is to transfer some favorite LP albums from vinyl to CD.  (I own the collectible Blind Faith album which has the topless underage teen on it before it was yanked from the shelves and replaced with another cover.)

And let’s not forget VHS video tapes, which I still have a bunch of.  Mostly, they’re recordings of final episodes of TV shows I used to watch.  I still have a VHS player and yet another retirement project is to transfer some of those tapes to DVD.

Then there’s photo film.  I resisted digital cameras for a while.  I owned a semi-professional Minolta camera with a 75-150 zoom and matched multiplier to take it to 300.  Early digital cameras did not have the ability to change various settings and used “digital” zooms which are inferior to “optical” zooms.  I also did not like trying to compose using an LCD because I couldn’t steady the camera as well as when it is braced against my face.

Eventually, I tired of lugging all that camera equipment around and bought a Canon with a 3x optical zoom, optical viewfinder (which reduces battery consumption since the LCD is off) and allowed me to change all sorts of settings, including choice of aperture control, shutter control, or fully automatic.  It’s great to take multiple photos of the same scene without worrying about “wasting” film and then deleting all but the best photo.  (Another retirement project is to scan all my pre-digital camera travel photos so I can put them on my travel photo website.)

I’m sure I’ve left out many other extinct technologies.  Let me know some of the ones I’ve missed.


11 responses to “In Remembrance Of Dead Technology

  1. Several years ago I found some old 8mm tapes in my parents house. I wanted to convert them to dvds. It took me a week to find someone who had an old Kodak projector so I could view the old films. I also found a gadget (box) to put in front of the old projector lens. It had another opening on the side of the box for my video camera so I could record the films on my digital camera. The old 8mm tapes were old and kept breaking but I am glad I took the time to do it. These were tapes from the 50s and 60s and had many old family memories on them. I know you can take the old films to some camera shops to be convertred but I wanted to do it myself.

  2. “I’m sure I’ve left out many other extinct technologies. Let me know some of the ones I’ve missed.”

    One that comes to mind is Polaroid pics which was a big deal in our family at Christmas.

    “I ‘ve refused to dispose of my vinyl record collection. Many albums never made it to CD because they were not “popular” enough. So another retirement project is to transfer some favorite LP albums from vinyl to CD.”

    Now that is fun. I have converted many of my vinyl 33’s to MP3. Several Christmases ago I converted the entire Beatles collection from Vinyl to CD’s and gave it to my daughter. CD’s are going the way of vinyl btw. MP3 is so much more portable. Last week I began buying music from amazon with the cloud account on my android and playing the MP3 downloads on the SUV’s stereo system and through headphones while riding my bike.

    • Yes, I’ve seen that Ion turntable and that may be the one I get.

      As for MP3, aren’t they compressed? Compression normally degrades quality. I don’t carry my music with me, so CDs are fine.

  3. I kept waiting and waiting, and finally you mentioned the 8-Track! I thought surely he won’t leave that out! When I was a freshman in college, my father bought me a reel-to-reel tape player so I could practice singing and playing guitar.
    I can’t say I miss much of that technology, except for one thing–film cameras. I miss the clarity and vivid colors of film. However, as digital cameras have continued to improve, they have done so to the point where the eye can no longer distinguish the difference. I still miss film cameras,because when you took a “good” picture, you knew how hard it was to do and you had such a feeling of accomplishment.
    pt and I recently had a discussion, speaking of what the eye can and cannot distinguish, about the use of video replay and baseball being the last holdout, for the most part, against it. There is that famous example of the guy who pitched a no-hit game, except the ump disagreed. Even though replay later showed the player to have been right (and the ump felt terrible about it), the results of his call were allowed to stand.
    Even horse racing, which has to be one of the most traditional “sports” in existence, has solved that problem. In a close race, they simply do not call the winner until the replay has been reviewed.
    And speaking of horse racing, Secretariat’s time in the Preakness has now been officially revised, making him hold the record for all 3 Triple Crown Races. At the tme of the race, they knew there was something wrong with the clock, so they went with the two timing officials who used stopwatches–but that was still wrong. The guy who proved it did so by counting the number of frames in the video of the race, Since there are exactly 27.59 ( I think) frames per second in a video, he arrived at the truly accurate number of seconds. Fascinating story.

    • Reel to reel was what you used when you wanted quality. That was before Dolby was introduced to cassettes. Presumably, Dolby is dead too….

      Very clever to use the number of frames to calculate time.

  4. It’s 29.97 frames per second. As my sister pointed out to me, that isn’t true of slo-mo or super slo-mo. But I think that’s a post-1973 development. And it was indeed very clever. Even more amazing is that the Maryland Racing Commission accepted the evidence. While the evidence is indisputable, there is a sort of sentimental factor to it too. Here’s the article I read about the decision:

  5. “As for MP3, aren’t they compressed? Compression normally degrades quality. I don’t carry my music with me, so CDs are fine”

    I can’t tell the difference, of course I grew up with mono so anything in stereo is still a treat to me. And they are both far superior to mass produced tape.

    Here is a fairly unbiased comparison.

    • Mono? Are you that much older than me? You’re torturing my memory here, but I’m fairly sure I had stereo in high school.

      As a college freshman in 1970 I did have some sort of “all in one” cheap stereo (not components). By junior year, I went to components. A Marantz amp, I recall.

      I still have, and can’t recall when I last used, the system I bought in the mid-80s. Kenwood amp with 110 watts RMS per channel and separate Kenwood tuner; Dual semi-automatic belt-drive turntable tracking at 0.5 gram with a Shure cartridge (I think); and the “wall of sound” Bose 901 Series IV speakers. And a stand alone 10-band equalizer.

      Plus some “dead” technology: Hitachi 4-head cassette and a Sanyo “Super D” compression (recording) / decompression (playback) black box which which was on top of Dolby.

  6. You brought back some great memories! I remember my fifth grade teacher letting me help make worksheets for class. I think it was on the mimeograph machine. Was that the one with purple ink that smelled good when the ink was still fresh? (At least us kids thought it smelled good.)

    I still have a stand-alone answering machine. I just switched to voicemail from our local provider, but I hate it. Prefer the machine.

  7. “Mono? Are you that much older than me? You’re torturing my memory here, but I’m fairly sure I had stereo in high school.”

    I remember the time period that Stereo became significant in my life it was the summer of 1961. I was attending a six week music camp at FSU. I spent many happy hours in the music library (Longmire). Much of the music was mono but when I came across a stereo I could really tell the difference. So I cherry picked stereo music history (lol) if I couldn’t find Mozart in stereo I listened to Beethoven.

    The technology may have been more common with some portion of the more affluent population than with my household, we never seemed to have any cash. I had a mono player in my bedroom which I would fall asleep listening to well into my Junior year of HS. The car radios were mono as was the first TV in our house. Transistor radios had a single mono ear plug. I think we finally got a new stereo in 1963.

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